LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Arkansas is nicknamed the Natural State, and its capital lives up to the moniker. There are plenty of ways for people to experience the great outdoors in and around Little Rock. Plus, many of them are free.
Armadillos and rocks
Want to see Little Rock's namesake geological formation and maybe an armadillo? Slip on some walking shoes and head to the trails that saddle up to the Arkansas River. The trail system loops by The Little Rock and Bill Clinton's presidential center in downtown Little Rock. Farther west, walkers, runners and cyclists can pass the aptly named Big Dam Bridge and spot armadillos in Two Rivers Park. Think of Boston's Charles River Esplanade with a touch of Southern charm (and a slightly different accent). Details at arkansasrivertrail.org/.
Climb every mountain -- or just one
Pinnacle Mountain rises more than 1,000 feet above the Arkansas River Valley, and it provides hikers with a spectacular view of the surrounding area. The park has a few trails, including 1.5-mile summit trails on the east and west sides of the mountain. But those trails get a bit steep toward the top, so the fainter of heart may prefer hiking around the base of the mountain. Details at arkansasstateparks.com/pinnaclemountain/.
Historic high school
Arkansas has beautiful scenery, but it also has a history of ugly episodes in race relations. In 1957, Little Rock became the symbol of state resistance to school desegregation. Arkansas' governor and hundreds of protesters tried to stop nine black students known as the Little Rock Nine from entering Central High School. Things got so bad that the students needed the protection of federal troops to integrate the previously all-white school. Today, the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site visitor center features a permanent exhibit on the desegregation crisis. Details at nps.gov/chsc/index.htm.
As seen in 'Gone With the Wind'
The Little Rock area is no Hollywood, but it does have a bit of cinematic history. Across the river from Little Rock in North Little Rock lies the Old Mill, which appeared in the opening scenes of the film "Gone With the Wind." The Old Mill was built in 1933 as a replica of a water-powered mill from the 1800s. These days, the scenic spot is used for picnics and photo shoots. Details at nlr.ar.gov/visitor/old-mill.asp.
Clinton's old stomping grounds
Arkansas is perhaps best known as Bill Clinton's home state, so no list of tourist attractions would be complete without something related to the 42nd president. Clinton's presidential center charges admission on all but a few days, but the governor's mansion, where he and Hillary lived for years in Arkansas, is free. The mansion offers public tours on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but you'll need to call ahead to schedule one: (501) 324-9805. Details at arkansasgovernorsmansion.com/.